Monday, June 29, 2009

Bradenton kid could be Indians' new closer

Chris Perez, a St. Louis Cardinals reliever and former Manatee High and Pendleton School standout, was traded to the Cleveland Indians over the weekend for infielder Mark DeRosa.

That's an interesting tidbit for those who follow the careers of Manatee County athletes. But why should fantasy players care?

Here's the deal: Perez is a big, hard-throwing right-hander who's been pegged as a future big league closer for some time now. The 23-year-old didn't quite do enough this year to beat out Ryan Franklin and Jason Motte and win the favor of Cards manager Tony La Russa for the team's closer duties. But the move to Cleveland opens a whole new world of possibility for him. In case you haven't noticed, the Tribe's free-agent signing of Kerry Wood hasn't exactly been an overwhelming success. Wood's 5.47 ERA and 1.56 WHIP are pretty atrocious. He hasn't had that many save opportunities with the Indians struggling so mightily in 2009, but Wood has also managed to blow four of 13 chances.

Wood's still got another year on his deal with Cleveland, and the team doesn't have many other reliable options in its bullpen, which means the job will probably still belong to him at least through this season, barring a complete meltdown or an injury. But expect Perez to get some serious on-the-job training as Wood's set-up man this season. I predict he'll take over ninth-inning duties by the middle of next year - which means he should stay on fantasy players' radar. He's the Indians' closer of the future.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Kazmir coming back

Scott Kazmir's coming back this weekend, the Herald's Roger Mooney reports. Excited?

I'm not sure how to feel, honestly. I expected big things from the Rays lefty this year. Lots of strikeouts and a bunch of wins for the defending AL champions. But it didn't happen. He just didn't look right at the start of the year, but I still thought he'd straighten out. I swung a deal for him in late April straight up for Bobby Abreu. Then he proceeded to really tank before getting sent to the DL with a "quadriceps injury." Whether or not the injury was serious, it seemed like the Rays really just wanted him to go on a rehab assignment and fix his mechanics. And he has, and he's gotten his velocity back up, too.

We'll have to see if Kaz is really back to form. I'm not activating him against the Marlins this weekend. I want to see him cut down the walks and start blowing his fastball by some hitters the way he used to, and in the process whittle down that 7.69 ERA. If he can do that, he becomes a serious buy-low candidate, because the potential is still there.

Friday, June 19, 2009

It's OK to be mean

If there’s one aspect of fantasy baseball I truly enjoy, it’s kicking a fellow owner while he’s down.

I know it sounds pretty mean-spirited, but this game isn’t for the weak of heart. I’ve been in some leagues with some pretty hardcore guys over the years, and some of them took true pleasure in the misfortunes of other owners. I’ve learned you have to have a bit of a mean streak if you want to be a contender – whether that means making ridiculously one-sided trade offers in the hopes of hosing someone or using your waiver claim to beat someone out for a free agent they covet.

For instance, consider Raul Ibanez’s recent groin injury. Let’s say one of my leaguemates just lost one of this year’s premier hitters to the disabled list. How can I use that to my advantage? Well, the first thing I’m going to do is send him a lowball trade offer in the hopes he’ll panic over missing Ibanez’s stellar average and home run and RBI totals for the next few weeks. How does David Ortiz for Ibanez sound? Maybe it’ll be a slap in the face – or maybe he’ll take it. And then I’ll be the one laughing when Ibanez is healed in a few weeks and resuming his charge toward a .300/45/120 season.

If your league’s Ibanez owner isn’t that gullible and decides to simply ride out the storm with the Philadelphia Phillies slugger on his DL, there’s another way you can still tweak him and make his loss your gain. Go ahead and pick up John Mayberry Jr., the youngster who will replace Ibanez on the Phils’ roster. Mayberry isn’t exactly a super-prospect, but at 6-foot-6 and 234 pounds he certainly passes the “looks” test, and he’s got some pop in his bat – he hit a homer in a nine-at bat cameo in the majors in May and went yard again Thursday in his first game back up from Triple-A. He probably doesn’t have much long-term value, but every homer Mayberry hits from here on out will be a tiny dagger into the heart of an Ibanez owner. What could be more enjoyable?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Yo Johan - what's wrong?

What's up with Johan Santana? He looked like fantasy's top pitcher at the start of this year and the surefire stud he's been for years. Then things started to turn a little bit south in his past few starts, with talk of his velocity being down, and he was getting hit harder than usual. Not a huge deal, but a concern to those owners watching closely. Then, Sunday's nine-run shelling in a 15-0 loss to the Yankees really got everybody's attention. Now all of a sudden we're hearing reports of back soreness, a split fingernail and finally a blister that forced him to change his grip and lose effectiveness on his fastball.

It's hard to know what to believe at this point in terms of Santana's health or the root cause of his struggles. The Mets' ace says he's fine, it was just a bad day (a really bad, career-worst day at that) and he'll be OK. Time will tell, so maybe if you're a cautious type you sit Santana for his next scheduled start against the slugging Tampa Bay Rays and watch the radar gun and see how he looks. But I'm not going to flip out about this right now if I'm a Santana owner - the guy's been too good for too long. If it were up to me I'd keep him activated and hope this has been just a temporary blip on what should be a fine season.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Bad news for Josh Hamilton

I had Josh Hamilton ranked in my top 10 entering this season, but he hasn't belonged there. He was hitting only .240 with six home runs before the news that he'll be out 4-6 weeks following surgery for a torn abdominal muscle.

It's a shame, not just that he suffered an ufortunate injury when crashing into a wall a few weeks ago, but that he wasn't lighting the world on fire at the plate the way he did last year. It's surprising really, given that the Texas Rangers are in first place and their lineup is chock full of developing young hitters like Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler and Chris Davis. Imagine how scary the Rangers would be if Hamilton had been hitting at last year's level (.304, 32 HRs, 130 RBIs).

At this point, the best we can hope for as Hamilton owners - or owners of any Rangers hitter - is that he returns from surgery right on schedule (mid-July) and can revert to his 2008 form. Otherwise, we'll have to label him one of '09's biggest busts.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Joba (almost) goes the distance

Those who've been calling for Joba Chamberlain to pitch the eighth inning for the Yankees got their wish last night, but not how they expected.

Chamberlain, a favorite topic of sports media talking heads, lasted a career-high eight innings Monday night in the Yankees' 5-2 win over the Indians (And also made a heck of a play - see video). He needed only 106 pitches to make it through eight and hand the ball to closer Mariano Rivera, a plan the Yanks would ideally stick to every time he takes the mound. But they've treated young Joba's arm like a vintage sportscar, only to be used sparingly and without putting too many miles on it. Chamberlain won't always be able to breeze through eight innings in an easy 106 pitches like Monday. But if he can begin to work deeper into games and be more efficient, the speculation of him moving back to the bullpen (which the Yanks have given no indication they'll do this year) will quiet down.

That's a good thing for anyone who has him on their fantasy roster, except if you're in a league that counts holds and you're desperate for help there. Joba is much more valuable as an effective starter than a lights-out setup man. If he's capable of more outings like Monday's, you're looking at a pretty nice No. 3 fantasy starter.